Every year, we hold a now-annual Memorial Scavenger Hunt in my hometown. Last year, after my father’s birthday and death fell unfortunately on the same week, we zipped through a train of holidays.
Within the ensuing four weeks, we celebrated Thanksgiving, my birthday, and Christmas — all punctuated by his empty chair. The festivities provided closeness, warmth, laughter and distraction, contrasted by the inevitable emptiness of the day after Christmas.
HONORING THE PAST BY SEEKING NEW PRESENTS
So, I decided we needed something to bookend the merriment. In his honor (and this year, in my mother’s as well), we divided into teams, making a list of actions to perform and items to gather, taking us from one end of the city to the other. Something about traveling these familiar roads, honoring their personalities, hobbies and loves, was healing.
TWO STONE COLD TABLETS, ONE BREATHING SELF
This year, one of the items on the list was:
“Break a commandment in the church parking lot.”
Because our particular religion was extremely restrictive, this amounted to lighthearted liberation. When I recounted the tale to a friend I grew up with, he suggested he might adopt the notion as a “bucket list” item — to break all 10 commandments there one day. The point, of course, wasn’t to ridicule our childhood religion, but to free ourselves from an environment that demanded perfection, created unbearable pressure, and left no room for humanness.
This experiment got me thinking. Many of the “Ten Commandments” represent universal moral virtues — nonviolence, contentment, family, honesty, faithfulness, rest, and a life without greed. The remaining three involve reverence of the sacred. In a sense, the bulk of these rules for living are simply societal and human.
WHAT IF WE GAVE YOU A HAMMER AND A NAIL?
But if you were in charge, what would be in your 10 commandments for living? If it were up to you (and not Moses or God), what would you etch on that stone? They say one source of guilt is when we violate our own standards for living — but how can we know when we’re experiencing healthy guilt if we find ourselves unclear on what standards we hold?
EXERCISE: FIND YOUR OWN 10 RULES FOR LIVING
We call them ideals for a reason. We’re not perfect individuals, and we’re all works in progress. Here’s a quick way to solidify your core beliefs — or to create them, if you’ve never given yourself the chance to think outside those that were handed to you.
- Honor your divinity.
Give yourself permission to play God a little. Don’t worry about whether your beliefs are “right” or “wrong.” Worry more about whether or not they are valuable ideas in your own eyes.
- How would you like to “do unto others”?
How do you treat others? How would you like to treat them? Write out 2-3 rules for interactions withothers. Choose ones that feel fair, nurturing of your relationships, and ones that you’ll feel good following. Think of times you’ve felt best about your interactions with others.
How much do you disclose? In which ways do you honor those you know? These can be anything from “Never miss a chance to say, ‘I love you'” to “Take 2 hours to cool down from arguments before expression.”
- How would you like to “do unto you”?
Make a second list. What are your rules for how you treat yourself? All too often we base morality solely on our kindness towards other people, forgetting to honor, protect, and love ourselves. When are you at your best, most optimistic, most empowered? When are you at peace? Write down a few rules for living that facilitate these things.
Maybe “Thou shalt” meditate every day for 20 minutes. Maybe “thou shalt” list the highlights of each day before you fall asleep. Perhaps “thou shalt” walk around your neighborhood in the morning, or take that bath. Maybe “thou shalt” listen to dance music when you’re feeling down-and-out, or treat yourself to a cup of tea at the close of every day.
- What stagnates your soul?
What are your sources of shame or pain? The things you never feel good about when you do? Write down 2-3 “Thou shalt not”s in response. For example, “Thou shalt not compare yourself to others on Facebook,” “Never second-guess your gut,” or “Thou shalt not use low blows in arguments.”
- What matters most to you?
What do you values do you hold dearest in life? Nonjudgment? Beauty? Expression? Honesty? Responsibility? Write these down to fill out your 10 commandments. “Always strive for honesty.” “Never censor yourself or others.” “Keep your word.” “Question your assumptions.” “Find something beautiful about every struggle.”
- Edit the tense parts.
Re-read your list. Ask yourself which commandments fill you with peace, and which make your body tense up.
- Keep what you can own.
Revisit any commandments that cause tension. Question them. Where did you learn these lessons — from life, from your parents, from your religion, or from yourself? Keep only those that came from your core experience or deepest self. Strike through the others.
- Break the rules for making the rules.
Give yourself permission to have 2 commandments or 20. The point is that they’re yours.
- Build in compassion for your renegade self.
Add one last rule — that you will always forgive yourself for your shortcomings, look ahead to your next opportunity to hold your values, and believe that your humanity is perhaps your most divine quality.